how to decide what 'heirlooms' to keep for your kids

talley_sue_nycMarch 22, 2007

I'm making this a separate posting bcs it's sort of a different point.

Two things people said on tre3's thread about whether to keep books from her own childhood (Help me decide):

tre3 wrote: "The dress...hangs in my oldest DD's small closet. I am ready to let it go. She is not. This dress has become HISTORY, a MUST KEEP. My mother didn't assign it that status, I'm not sure I did, but my daughter has."

and: " I have a much harder time giving up those books that were read to my children than those given to me."

and macbirch wrote: "I think it's easier to get rid of books inscribed from you than to you."

As parents, we have the responsibility of preserving our children's heirlooms for them. This is a particular puzzle for me.

I can decide what is important to ME from my childhood. Most of the time. But I still sometimes find myself surprised by how important something turns out to be, to me, years later. My folks cleaned out their attic, and sent me stuff from my childhood. Some of it, I was rolling my eyes about. But then other stuff turned out to be interesting and valuable, sometimes surprisingly so. They refused to choose, and they were right to force me to decide.

So given that--that sometimes I have erred in prediciting my OWN reaction--and added to it the idea that, while I know my children quite well, I am not them, and so I'm not certain what's really important to them even now, it's harder for me to make culling decisions for them.

And I need to--we don't have a full-house-size attic into which I can stuff every piece of paper, every toy, every stuffed animal they've ever owned.

so how to keep the things that really matter to them? Or that WILL matter to them? How to prioritize, what to value, how to preserve someething thta will help them remember a family friend we lost when they were relatively young, etc.

I'm working out my own guidelines, but it might be an interesting discussion.

We can bring our insights from our own reactions, as grownups, to what was saved from when we were young (and for how long), as well as our insights as parents into what seems to matter to our kids.

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What an appropriate topic. My earlier post has started me thinking about the legacy/history/keepsakes/stuff we leave our children. It is hard to know what value our children will assign things. I have my deceased grandparents driver's licenses. Someone else might have cut them up and tossed them. I think it is especially hard to assign value to somethings when your children are small. Perhaps those things have value because of the stories you tell about them. The first time we ever traveled away from our children , our DS made a colorful picture of our plane about to crash, spewing flames into the ocean with us parachuting out. We were sercretly horrified and concerned about his fear. Everytime we see that picture, made over fourteen years ago, we laugh and retell the story.
A couple months ago I dragged our DS, who is moving across the country in less than 45 days, down to the basement. We got out 2 large boxes of mementos. I ask him to go thru them with me. I was amazed at what few things he kept, what he valued. We agreed that anything he discarded I could have dibs on. I pulled a few ribbons, all his cub scout and boy scout patches and some other misc things out of his toss pile. I just felt perhaps in years to come he might regret getting rid of them. Sadly, in a way, he whittled it down to one manageable box(does not include photos!). For now I am thrilled to have it in our house. As years pass I'm sure I'll be trying to pawn it off on him.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 2:33PM
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I, too, had put together a box for my son including trophies he had received while in school. He kept one or two small items and told me to toss the rest, including the trophies. I think they're still in the garage but when I finally clean that out, I'll call him and give him one more chance to say he wants them. If not, out they go.

One item I took from my mother was the dress I wore as a flower girl at the age of 5 to my oldest sister's wedding. It is like a miniature wedding dress with crinolines. I should get it cleaned and send it to my now 5 year old gdd. I'm just afraid that when she uses is to play dress-up which she loves to do, it will get stained or torn. She probably won't but this is what's stopping me. So, do I hold onto it to enjoy looking at it from time to time or send it to someone who can use it, no matter the outcome?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 2:49PM
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I'd keep the dress Marie. Especially if you have pictures of yourself in the dress. But that's just me.

Growing up in an overloaded, save everything for posterity house, my emotional leanings are to keep things purged now. My kids will just have to deal with my emotional leavings, just like I'm stuck with my mom's. It isn't even a space issue for me. We have almost 3,000 square feet, adequate closets and storage and a big enough lot for a dozen storage sheds. I don't want to live a life of storing stuff.

My informal criteria is to keep pictures of events, a very small amount of clothing (coming home from the hospital, a dress which was for a formal portrait, etc.) I now have a photo book for school years for the younger kids. They can keep some school awards, pictures of science fairs, etc. all together. We've started a Scouting scrapbook so those pictures are together. We'll keep their merit badges and sashes.

Each child has their own room and they keep whatever they wish. They are good at giving up items they've outgrown. They know the trophies everyone gets just for participating aren't much sentimental value. I watch what type of things they keep just because they like them. Stuffed animals, pictures they've drawn. I will not hang onto everyday clothing. Their toys for the most part are short lived in interest. They tend to be very active and things like skates, bikes, skis get outgrown quickly. I won't hang onto that type of stuff, even if it was their first pair of skates. I would rather see another child get some use out of the items.

I think the things which will mean something later are the items we use in our everyday life. The quilt used to curl up with while watching TV. The sewing machines they use. Things they see on a daily basis. I know I have collected 1950's pyrex because that was what my mom used. Maybe they will like my old cannisters. Will my favorite rocking chair be fought over? Who knows?

When my oldest moved out he didn't want his drawings from gradeschool. I had them professionally framed. I put those away. I think they will mean more to him when he is 53, rather than 23.

I think this issue is like everything else we do in parenting. We do the best we can at any particular time, make peace with our decisions and let it go. If the house burned down tomorrow and every material item was gone we would still be the same people. The most important things I can give my kids (and I have received from previous generations) don't have anything to do with material goods so I don't want to give too much space or energy to items.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 3:46PM
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When my oldest moved out he didn't want his drawings from gradeschool. I had them professionally framed. I put those away. I think they will mean more to him when he is 53, rather than 23.

I think there's a fundamental truth behind this. Things I probably would have pitched, had I been asked, at 18, I found more valuable at 36 or 40.

But I did roll my eyes and throw out the huge drawing of The Hall of the Mountain King that I did in 3rd grade w/ my friend. That was when I was 38.

Now that my last kid is in 3rd grade, maybe it would be interesting to show him. Oh, well.

I agree w/ Gloria that the things we touch everyday will be more valued.

Or, the things we see often, like the beautiful vase in the corner of the china cabinet.

My DD is an artist--well, a drawer. She's pretty good, though not phenomenal, and she draws a lot. Right now I'm holding onto almost everything, but it's really too much. The volume actually cheapens it.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 4:23PM
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I don't have a lot of stuff I've inherited. My parents kept very little from when I was growing up. Everything got passed on or used up. The few things I did try to keep got ruined when it was stuck in storage. In some ways, I think it's easier on me not to have much. I look at my step-mother who has a house full of cr@p inherited from her relatives when they died. IMHO, it's a burden. The coffee table can't be used because it *might* get scratched, the dishes collect dust and have to be cleaned, the knick knacks are far too numerous and crowded to be enjoyed. Nobody in the house knows how to play the piano. The basic living space gets smaller and more crowded as each relative dies or goes into a nursing home.

I don't want to do that to my kids. I scrapbook and try to get basic names, dates, and stories included on the pages. I hope it means something when I'm gone. I'm letting my oldest child save schoolwork in some 3-ring binders. I'm saving some of the more durable toys like the Thomas stuff for the grandkids to play with at my house. Other than that, I don't know if I care what they keep. I certainly don't want them to feel obligated to keep anything.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 4:40PM
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Marie I once saw two things in a magazine that I vaguely remember. One was were the owner of a girl's fancy dress had it mounted in a plexiglass (kind of like a shadow box) frame. It hung on a wall that did not receive much natural light. The dress, framed was gorgeous, almost museum like. I also remember a Martha Stewart article were using a special type of photo reactive paper you get an impression. THe background is black. You lay the item on the paper. It is exposed to sunlight. The example in the article showed a lacy dress. All the lace and most details showed up but almost like a negative. I'm not describing it well. It looked very beautiful. Perhaps another way to preserve the dress or an image of the dress.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 5:45PM
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Those are great ideas although DH would think having a dress hung up as art is weird.

I called DD and told her that I would like to send DGD the dress. She said that no play dresses have been ruined from play. She also said that if the dress didn't fit, she'd save it for another (hopefully one day) daughter.

So, I feel it should be in her house, not mine. And I'm going to send it to her. This thread forced me to make a decision and I'm grateful for that.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 6:24PM
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There is something very freeing in giving the next generation the responsible and decision making authority on something! Perhaps, if the dress fits, you could ask your DD to take a picture of DGD. Maybe you could make a copy of you wearing the dress with a note about how much it has meant to you and how excited you are for her to have as you know she'll take good care of it. Maybe DD could replicate the same pose in picture.
Once I needed to send a thank you note to a friend of my mother's for a baby gift. I kept my rough draft and put it in my son's baby box. You could save a copy of the note you send, your picture of you and the picture of DGD. What a great way to complete the circle. THen no matter what happens to the dress you'll be at peace?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 8:17PM
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What a wonderful idea, Tre, about sending a note. DGD has a small box of special items that her mom has used since she was born and I could tell her to put that in there. I'll ask her to send me a photo of DGD in the dress if it fits. I think that alone would make me very happy. Her father is an artist and he's promised me a painting of DGD. If the dress fits, that could be the perfect painting. I am at peace with sending it. I'm pretty sure that when I'm gone, no one would be fighting over this dress so by me sending it, I'm deciding that it should be for a DGD.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 8:26PM
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When my daughter was making her First communion, my mother sent me a package containing my communion dress from 1962. Also two matching blue nylon Easter dresses my sister and I had worn around the same time. i didn't use the dress for my daughter,it looked quaint and dated. I bought her a beautiful lace dress all her own. All four of the dresses are now hung in a closet. I am now thinking of having them framed. Or maybe I should save them for potential granddaughters.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 8:37PM
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I have my father's baby coat which I hope to hang on the wall in our guest room. We sometimes call it "the Grandma room" because nearly everything in there is from one of our grandmothers or great-grandmothers. We can do this because we don't have kids occupying the room. I hope that someday our nieces and nephews will want some of these family things.

As a little girl, I played dressup in my mother's wedding dress. I was thrilled to wear it years later for my own wedding. I did need to replace the veil, which my younger self had stepped on and torn. Hmmn, maybe I should find a way to display that dress in there as well.

One thing I've always tried to do is to make actual use of any antique furniture we have. Often this wasn't the original use. My house was on the small side for many years, and I didn't have room for anything to be merely decorative. The washstand was often a bar or a microwave stand. The library table was our kitchen table. One dresser was my seed starting table for years, but now it's in our closet holding clothes again. It was important to DH that we keep these, so I found a way to use them. Even a lovely porcelain pitcher by the front door did double duty as a receipt holder.

We have a lot of things that were wedding gifts to DH's grandparents or belonged to his great-grandparents. My MIL has placed small notes in many of these that identify them. As we go through all the ornamental stuff, I hope to see if we can offer some of these to other members of the family who might appreciate them now. There's only so much Victorian I can handle. ;-> But it may be a long time before we get around to unpacking this.

Oh, on the chidhood stuff. I was tickled to find some of my school papers when going through my parents' house after their deaths. I don't know that I would have appreciated them earlier, but by that time I certainly did.

I was thrilled to find handwritten letters during our recent move. If you are fortunate to have letters written to your kids, I would consider keeping them.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 8:50PM
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Liz H I love the idea of using our keepsakes in our daily lives. We have my grandparents dining room furniture which we use almost weekly. The chairs are rickety, badly needing to be reglued, but my family knows to check which are sturdy. I've been dragging smaller things out of cabinets. Trying to figure out how to use some silver pcs in a decorative or useful way.
Several years ago I was touched to receive a pc my MIL bought right before her marriage. In the box she included a little note detailing the story of the purchase. I keep the note in the creamer she gave me.
Jannie, I found archival tissue and boxes at the Container Store. In one I have a baptismal gown and bonnet. Each DD has a commuion dress and one other favorite dress folded in a box. DS has a robe I made him which he loved at the time and a special sweater. My hope is that since these are stored on high shelves in our house, wrapped in special tissue and in the boxes that they will last. If as adults my children are uninterested, I guess I'll try to find someone else who will appreciate them.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 9:31PM
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I think you are lucky if you have a big family who "wants" your things or even anyone who wants them. Except for a few handmade things of my sisters and Mom and myself no one wants anything I have because they have their own and their own tastes. If they like or want it I give it to them now!!

(only two DS's and currently only one DIL).

    Bookmark   March 28, 2007 at 11:25AM
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My youngest is buying a house and moving out. Here is what she accepted: My brand new sectional sofa and leather chair and ottoman which she picked out, and my living room tables and lamps. : - ).
I have a ton of stuff from my mother's home which I am going to use now, never wanted to use it before, when I was younger and more "chic" but am now looking forward to setting up in my living room.
Aren't we mortals strange.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 9:48PM
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My MIL lived in the same house for 50 years. She was always cleaning. She constantly donated things she never used. I gave her many birthday and Christmas gifts over the years that disappeared. Yet ,after she died, we found the strangest things. A box with cancelled checks and bills and old bank books dating back to the 50's. All her old clothes in boxes in a spare bedroom. I am talking a thin bathrobe she had that was about a size three. This woman wore size 14 when I knew her. Even though most over her living space was spacious and clean and maintained, she had all this "secret" clutter of meaningless stuff. All of it was looked through after she died and thrown out. I vowed not to do that to my family after I'm gone. I am still in the process of thoroughly de-junking my house. I bought one plastic 30-gallon storage tub per child (I have two teen daughters). I am ruthless about what I'm saving. A few books, maybe 5 each. . Scrapbooks I made when they were infants. Christening and Communion dresses. That's about all.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 7:40AM
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Sometimes when you experience the trauma of helping someone downsize or need to settle someone else's estate it makes you more anxious not to put anyone else thru that experience. Several years ago I helped my parents make a significant move to a house about 1/3 in size. They'd lived in one place for 23 years! It was amazing and horrifying! A year and a half ago my father died unexpectedly. I helped my mother make decisions about his belongings. I was suprised and saddened to see how quickly our material life can be deconstructed. We each have small mementos. I found other than tools of daily life, my father did not have much most people would "value". Or if the things had a monetary value, they did not speak to us of my father. It has changed my perspective. As I mentioned before,for me, it is the act of "doing" not "having" that survives.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 8:20AM
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One day while spring cleaning and finding all these things I decided I was making a box for each of 3 children all grown and married or on thier I did I put photos of them,books,toys whatever was theres,baby books etc.I gave them to them .I didnt haveanything from my childhood.Maybe 3 pictures.I decided if I did this I was sure they wpould get them and not get thrown out after Im gone.They loved them.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 9:01AM
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Bulldinkie that sounds wonderful. I hope to get the energy and motivation to do something similar. Thank you.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 10:08AM
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On Trophies:
For years I struggled with trophies - one child especially had had more than we could comfortably store. But we were proud of her achievements and tried to find space for them.
Anyway, sometime in her teen years when she was paring things down for one reason or another, she went into her room one day and pulled all the little placards off with the name of the tournament or event and place she had come in etc. and tossed all the trophies. So now she has all the memories without all the clutter. Pretty smart kid. I wouldn't have thought of it.
To answer the original question about deciding - you can only do what space will allow. What I valued at 20 is different then what I value now and probably will change still.
Space issues have forced me to limit what I have saved for each child (excluding photos) to one box per child. They have things like first ballet shoes, first karate gi, first pair of shoes. Special doll or stuffed animal. Cards and correspondences. School folders with keep-worthy work and art that shows what they were doing. I will not be heartbroken if they get rid of the stuff, but it is there if they want to treasure it. It is fun to go through the boxes once in a while and talk about the memories the stuff evokes.
As far as our family things, I will give them first option before I get rid of anything in case something is very sentimental, but if it is just the memory and not really the thing, then I say take a nice picture of it and put it in a memory book and write about why it was special.
Everyone will feel differently, of course. Just my really long $ .02

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 5:00PM
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My children are still young. DS is almost 8 and DD is almost 2. I am a reforming packrat. I tried to save everything from my children and I do mean everything. It came to the overwhelming point of having a storage building neatly filled with labeled totes (about 30 of them).
I decided to keep their coming home outfits and the first picture outfits as well as their pacifiers. I packed those into memory boxes for them.

I also saved all of their receiving blankets and burb cloths. I had 4 small quilts made using the blankets and padded with the burb cloths. I had them embroidered with their name and dob and put one up for each child and gave one to my mother and kept one for myself.

It may not be something my children wanted but I think when they are my age they will understand the sentiment of the items.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2007 at 10:52PM
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I found this old thread while searching. I plan to make a shadow box type thing (glass covered) that covers a wall at the bottom of the stairs going to the basement. I want to make a section for each member of my family and each set of grandparents as far back as I have room or keepsakes to complete it.

On the topic of what to save for your children, I thought of what I have planned to use for my keepsake wall. I am choosing items that tell "who" that person was. (When I get past the grandparents, I have to take what I can get:)).
For my paternal grandma, I have her old Kerr canning guide, the beat up old aluminum canning funnel and a dipper. She was an amateur prospector so I have her gold panning pan and a little digging tool. She was a quilter and I have a couple of quilt tops that she never got to finish. And so it goes for the other grandparents. Just little things that would not be valuable in themselves.

My point is, what I think my children would want, they may not want and might wish I had saved something else. I'm sure my grandmother would never have dreamed I would want that old canning funnel, but it tells who she was. She canned thousands of jars of food in her lifetime and was generous in sharing it with those who needed it.

Thankfully, my mom is going through all hers and Daddy's stuff now. She said she didn't want me to have to do it after they died. But she boxes everything up in categories, has me and my kids look through it to see if there is anything we want, then sends the rest to Goodwill or whatever. That's how I got my grandma's canning stuff.

Anyway, items telling who a person is and what they stood for is my idea for saving heirlooms.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 8:17AM
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My mother dejunked her house after my dad died. She offered me a few childhood things. I took my Camp Fire Girls book I had from the third grade. I advised her it was okay to throw out everything else.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 2:23PM
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Jannie, I think that's freeing to a person. My Mom & Dad had tons of greeting cards that I and my three adult children had sent them over the years. We each gave her permission to toss them, and we HAD to. She refused to throw them away until I said, "Mom, you know we love you both. You've enjoyed the cards and they have served their purpose. I'm giving you permission to throw them away." I called my kids and they did the same thing. Then she felt OK about getting rid of them. Her sister also gave her permission to get rid of anything she had given Mom :-) It worked!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 6:24PM
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My German Grandmother had a very "freeing" tradition. When she threw away stale bread or bread heels, she'd kiss the bread and say goodbye "I hope I never wish I had this back."

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 8:59AM
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